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How Volunteering Helped Me Own My Anxiety

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I glanced around the room filled with strangers — what was I doing here again? My anxiety hovered in the background and I quietly did some breathing exercises to try and keep it in check.

A past conversation I had with my psychologist comes to my mind: “I want you to challenge yourself, be spontaneous, get out of your comfort zone and let your anxiety know who is boss.”

The next day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and a post popped up from a mental health service I liked, ReachOut, looking for youth ambassadors for my state. If I wanted to challenge myself, then this was it. Even if I got offered a position, I told myself I wouldn’t need to accept it. I clicked send and pushed the application out of my mind.

Two weeks had passed until I got a response. I clicked on the email hesitantly, wondering what the result could be. I scanned through the email and landed on the words, “Congratulations you have been accepted to be a youth ambassador.” My anxiety started up, but I knew I had to accept. I responded and wondered what I had gotten myself into and whether it was the right choice or not. In order to be a youth ambassador I would have to attend a two day workshop, which meant a room full of strangers and a situation I had never faced before.

I glanced around the room and knew I was meant to be there. I found a table and sat down. I started making introductions to my table mates, slowly feeling more confident and pushing my anxiety down. The workshop went in a blur and by the end of it I had proven my anxiety wrong and gained a new group of friends.

Of course, the workshop was just the beginning. A youth ambassador is required to attend events, run stalls and give presentations, once again leaving me out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what I was getting into or how my anxiety would react. I started small by helping out at a stall organized by one of the other youth ambassadors and giving a presentation to my local youth group, and before long, I had decided to run a movie night to raise some funds. I contacted sponsors, organized a movie license, baked cupcakes to sell, organized help to run the event and set up everything. At the end of the night I couldn’t believe that it had gone off without a major problem and I was the driving force behind it.

That first year of being a youth ambassador was a blur. As much as I was helping ReachOut, they were also helping me own my anxiety. Whenever I attended an event, I got to tell people about my anxiety and how much mental illness affects young people using my personal experience.

I continued to push myself: I walked 5K walks, gave up my laptop for a month to raise funds and single-handedly ran stalls, all while continuing to share my story. I built relationships in the organization and put my hand up for whatever came my way. My anxiety wasn’t going to stop me from doing work I loved and ReachOut gave me the strength to keep pushing myself.

Volunteering helped me find my confidence and challenge myself and my anxiety in a supportive environment. Two years later, I am still a youth ambassador for ReachOut and have no intention of stopping. I am continuing to push myself and I am so thankful for the relationships I have built and the opportunities ReachOut gives me.

Volunteering has helped me own my anxiety. If you ever want to push yourself, I recommend finding something you are passionate about and volunteering. It may seem hard at first, but who knows, it might just be the best decision you make in owning your mental health.

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Thinkstock photo via Rawpixel

Originally published: August 22, 2017
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